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CARDWELL V. LEWIS, 417 U. S. 583 (1974)

U.S. Supreme Court

Cardwell v. Lewis, 417 U.S. 583 (1974)

Cardwell v. Lewis

No. 72-1603

Argued March 18, 1974

Decided June 17, 1974.

417 U.S. 583


On July 24, 1967, law enforcement officers interviewed respondent in connection with a murder that had occurred five days before and viewed his automobile, which was thought to have been used in the commission of the crime. On October 10, in response to a previous request, respondent appeared at 10 a.m. for questioning at the office of the investigating authorities, having left his car at a nearby public commercial parking lot. Though the police had secured a warrant for respondent's arrest at 8 a.m., respondent was not arrested until late in the afternoon, after which his car was towed to a police impoundment lot, where a warrantless examination the next day of the outside of the car revealed that a tire matched the cast of a tire impression made at the crime scene and that paint samples taken from respondent's car were not different from foreign paint on the fender of the victim's car. Respondent was tried and convicted of the murder, and his conviction was affirmed on appeal. In a subsequent habeas corpus proceeding, the District Court concluded that the seizure and examination of respondent's car violated the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments and that the evidence obtained therefrom should have been excluded at the trial. The Court of Appeals affirmed, concluding that the scraping of paint from the car's exterior was a search within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment; that the search, which was not incident to respondent's arrest, was unconsented; and that the car's seizure could not be justified on the ground that the car was an instrumentality of the crime in plain view.

Held: The judgment is reversed. Pp. 417 U. S. 585-596.

476 F.2d 467, reversed.


1. The examination of the exterior of respondent's automobile upon probable cause was reasonable, and invaded no right of privacy that the requirement of a search warrant is meant to protect. Pp. 417 U. S. 588-592.

Page 417 U. S. 584

(a) The primary object of the Fourth Amendment is the protection of privacy. Warden v. Hayden, 387 U. S. 294, 387 U. S. 305-306. P. 417 U. S. 589.

(b) Generally, less stringent warrant requirements are applied to vehicles than to homes or offices, Carroll v. United States, 267 U. S. 132; Chambers v. Maroney, 399 U. S. 42, and the search of a vehicle is less intrusive and implicates a lesser expectation of privacy. Pp. 417 U. S. 589-591.

(c) The "search" in this case, concededly made on the basis of probable cause, infringed no expectation of privacy. Pp. 417 U. S. 591-592.

2. Under the circumstances of this case, the seizure by impounding the car was not unreasonable. Pp. 417 U. S. 592-596.

(a) The vehicle was seized from a public place, where access was not meaningfully restricted. Chambers v. Maroney, supra, followed; Coolidge v. New Hampshire, 403 U. S. 443, distinguished. Pp. 417 U. S. 593-595.

(b) Exigent circumstances justifying a warrantless search of a vehicle are not limited to situations where probable cause is unforeseeable and arises only at the time of arrest. Cf. Chambers, supra, at 399 U. S. 50-51. Pp. 417 U. S. 595-596.

MR. JUSTICE POWELL, being of the view that the inquiry of a federal court on habeas corpus review of a state prisoner's Fourth Amendment claim should be confined solely to the question whether the defendant had an opportunity in the state courts to raise that claim and have it adjudicated fairly, would reverse the judgment of the Court of Appeals, since respondent does not contend that he was denied that opportunity. See Schneckloth v. Bustamonte, 412 U. S. 218, 412 U. S. 250 (POWELL, J., concurring). P. 417 U. S. 596.

BLACKMUN, J., announced the Court's judgment and delivered an opinion, in which BURGER, C.J., and WHITE and REHNQUIST, JJ., joined. Powell, J., filed an opinion concurring in the result, post, p. 417 U. S. 596. STEWART, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which DOUGLAS, BRENNAN, and MARSHALL, JJ., joined, post, p. 417 U. S. 596.

Page 417 U. S. 585

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